I recently read a blog post titled, Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Injured Truck Drivers? It’s an important question. The Huntsville law firm posting that content asked the right question. But, that firm’s post failed to provide a real or helpful answer! It really failed to answer the question at all. It was just clickbait with keywords and a call to action!
The article was simply generic content stuffed full of keywords listing different injuries with a call to action asking readers to call the lawyers. The generic answer provided by this firm — “a truck driver must be legally categorized as an employee. If a truck driver is classified as an independent contractor, he or she is not eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.” What? Sure, employees are entitled to benefits while independent contractors are not. Because employees are entitled to workers compensation, a real answer is very important.
But, the vague answer in the firm’s post tells the reader nothing about Alabama law and how it actually classifies workers. The vague answer provides injured truck drivers with no real information to help. The lawyers in that firm are really good but they’ve outsourced their content to a non-lawyer ghostwriter. That’s bad for legal consumers. Let’s look at truck drivers and actually explore the classification issue.
In the next few paragraphs, I want to provide some real information for injured truck drivers. Are you entitled to Alabama workers’ compensation benefits? What issues are important? What facts are key? If you are a truck driver injured in an accident, I want you to have important information to determine whether you can receive important workers compensation benefits. So, let’s take a look at the rules.
How The Employer “Classifies” Or “Labels” The Relationship Is NOT The Deciding Factor!
If you are a truck driver, your company may label you as an “employee” or “independent contractor.” A lot of companies wrongly “label” or “classify” workers as independent contractors. What the company calls you is NOT the determining factor. Alabama courts have long held that:
The designation of an individual as an independent contractor . . . is not necessarily controlling with respect to the issue of whether that individual is an independent contractor.
See, Jenkins v. Am Transp. Inc., 195 So.3d 996 (Ala.Civ.App. 2015).
What does this mean for you? It means you can still be considered an employee even if the company “classifies” you as an independent contractor. It means the label is less important than the reality of the facts. It means our courts will look past the label to see if you are actually an employee entitled to work comp benefits.
In recent years, many companies have been found liable after trying to mis-label or mis-classify workers. It’s a frequent issue within the transportation and trucking industry.
Worker misclassification is also a frequent issue across numerous other industries. Many companies wrongly classify workers to avoid taxes, regulations, employee benefits and workers’ compensation benefits. One of the big issues with employee misclassification is that the rules vary between the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor and multiple states. I won’t go into the different definitions employed by different agencies for different purposes. I’ll stick to the topic of this post – Alabama workers compensation benefits.
The Alabama Trucking Association even has an article on its website warning that you cannot judge drivers by their title. So, let’s look at the real issue — What makes someone an employee versus an independent contractor for purposes of work comp?
Does The Employer Reserve The Right To Control Or Direct Your Work Activities? That’s The Real Deciding Factor.
Are you really an employee? The issue for workers’ compensation comes down to one word, control. In the past, Alabama courts have held:
For one to be an employee, the other party must retain the right to direct the manner in which the business shall be done, as well as the result to be accomplished or, in other words, not only what shall be done, but how it shall be done.
See, Jenkins v. Am Transp. Inc., 195 So.3d 996 (Ala.Civ.App. 2015). The right of control is the primary issue.
Think of truckers. Did the trucking company simply contract with you to retrieve and deliver a load of merchandise as you see fit? Did the company leave the details or manner of transport up to you? Or, did the company hire and control how you did the job? Did the company prescribe your route, your loading manner, your dress, or other factors?
Independent contractor versus employee? The issue can sometimes be gray. It’s often gray. It is clearly a case-by-case issue. To help with the issue, our Court set out several factors to consider in determining whether the company retained a right of control. These factors include:
- Direct evidence demonstrating a right or an exercise of control.
- The method of payment for services.
- Whether equipment was furnished.
- Whether the other party has a right to terminate the employment.
On its website, The Alabama Trucking Association even provides tips for trucking companies trying to ensure drivers are classified as independent contractors. The article counsels trucking companies to ensure the driver is not exclusive with it; to require drivers be responsible for their operation costs; to require drivers provide liability and work comp coverage for themselves; to avoid dictating driver activities beyond a general schedule; and, to avoid treating drivers like employees who have uniforms, reviews or evaluations.
What Should I Do If Injured On The Job?
If you are a truck driver injured on the job, you should immediately report any accident or injury to your company. In Alabama, work comp accidents must be promptly reported. By reporting the accident (in writing), you are preserving any potential claim.
In addition to reporting the accident, you need medical care. Your health should always be the top priority. I tell every client their health is the most important issue. In Alabama work comp situations, the employer gets to pick the initial doctor. To get comp benefits, you must go to the company’s authorized doctor (unless the employer refuses to provide a doctor). So, report the accident and ask for medical care. Then, if none is provided, go on your own.
If the trucking company claims you are an independent contractor not covered by work comp, don’t take its word as truth. As you can see, the issue is sometimes gray. It’s usually determined by the particular facts of each relationship. Think about the issues I’ve discussed in this post. These include — Are you exclusive? Who pays operational costs? Who dictates your activities? How are your activities controlled? Can the trucking company tell you how to perform the job? Does the company control how you load, operate or drive? Does the company provide equipment? Does the company provide a uniform? Lots of facts show potential control.
In one recent case of mine, the driver suffered a serious shoulder injury in an accident near Decatur. The company claimed he was an independent contractor (despite the fact it controlled how he performed the job). I had the employee preserve his uniform with the company logo; keep his receipts where the company paid all expenses such as hotels and food; and, obtain a copy of the company handbook from the truck’s glove compartment. It’s clear the company controlled his activities. If hurt, make sure you preserve or document any evidence of control.
The issue of employee versus independent contractor may require litigation. So, consult with an attorney who understands Alabama workers’ compensation claims and is also willing to go to court. Your case is too important. And, the rules are too complicated for you to trust a lawyer who has not studied this issue.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm handles serious personal injury cases across Alabama. Our cases include commercial truck accidents and workers’ compensation claims. If you have questions, let us know. Our consultations are always free and confidential. We are happy to answer your questions.